Ashish Tiwari

How Does Accessibility Work in PDFs?

PDF accessibility is a component of the overall document accessibility of a website or other digital assets. We know that buildings, sidewalks, transportation and public spaces must be accessible to people with disabilities, but what does accessibility mean in the context of the digital space? Digital accessibility requires that an electronic or digital asset is easily opened, read, understood and navigated by everyone, including those with disabilities.

PDF accessibility works by allowing people with disabilities like vision impairment, color blindness, hearing loss or certain cognitive disabilities to experience the document the way it was intended. Since people with disabilities do not access PDF documents the same way sighted users do, PDF accessibility becomes critical.

Portable Document Format (PDF) is one of the most popular digital formats for all types of documents, including invoices, instructions, statements, e-books, applications, etc. Of course, most organizations around the world store and publish a large number of PDF documents on their websites, apps and other digital offerings.

All digital media (including PDFs) stored on your hard drive, server or website must be accessible.

What is PDF accessibility?

PDF accessibility makes PDF documents accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. The physical view of an accessible PDF is usually identical to that of a non-accessible PDF. So if you are not generally familiar with accessible documents, you may not be able to distinguish an accessible PDF from an inaccessible one.

This is one of the main reasons why many organizations still publish accessible PDFs on their websites without realizing that the information contained in these documents may not reach every intended user.

Why is PDF accessibility so important?

Unlike a sighted user who physically views and reads the contents of a PDF document, a user with vision impairment or other disabilities, such as color blindness, hearing loss, or certain cognitive challenges, relies on tools such as a screen reader to access PDFs.

Thus, if a PDF is not made accessible, a screen reader does not read it as it should be read, preventing the user from fully accessing the information contained in the PDF document.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility goes beyond public places, buildings and transportation. Digital media also falls under the guidance of the ADA. Website owners that store and publish inaccessible PDF documents discriminate against the differently-abled and become liable for accessibility-related lawsuits.

How does accessibility work in PDFs?

Unfortunately, most PDFs are not made accessible in the authoring/creation process. This is why thousands, sometimes millions, of PDFs are inaccessible.

Fortunately, this problem has many solutions.

To begin your journey toward achieving PDF accessibility, you must first determine how many PDFs you have and where exactly they are stored on your website.

Our accessibility software, CL Clarity, scans your website and creates a comprehensive report on your website’s inaccessible PDF files.

If you only have a few PDFs and want to verify that they are accessible to compliance standards such as WCAG, HHS or PDF/UA, try our PDF accessibility checker – CommonLook PDF Validator.

CommonLook PDF Validator tests and verifies PDF documents. It is a free plugin for Adobe Acrobat Pro or DC that runs a number of checks on a PDF to verify its accessibility.

What sets CommonLook PDF Validator apart from any other tool of this kind is that it tests against Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA, PDF/UA, and HHS standards. And unlike other PDF verification products, PDF Validator provides a certification report for each tested document.

How to make PDFs accessible?

There are two ways to remediate a PDF document and make it accessible:

  1. Fix it yourself with PDF accessibility tools like CommonLook PDF
  2. Have it remediated by professionals, like Allyant’s PDF Remediation Team

Our flagship solution – CommonLook PDF – is a powerful accessibility tool designed specifically for PDF remediation and validation.

However, if you feel that you would rather have your PDFs repaired by professionals, you can rely on the support and guidance of our team of professional remediation professionals.

PDF accessibility is crucial and ensures that everyone can access PDFs. Whether the PDFs in question are invoices, bank receipts, fillable forms, brochures, medical diagrams or reports, or a government declaration, the information contained in them is essential to the person that needs it. And everyone, including people with disabilities, should be able to access them.